Choosing Color: Marketing and Design

Color has a powerful subconscious effect on our emotions and affects human behavior. Generally, people make a subconscious judgment about a product in less than 90 seconds and the majority of these people base that assessment on color alone. It is invaluable in business to have a good understanding of color meanings in order to acheive desired results in marketing, promotions and brand identity. Following is a breakdown of colors, their common business uses and associated meanings in the western world.

Red is an intense high energy color associated with love, passion, strength, excitement, power, courage,  and action. It is a very physical color which increases the heart rate and is linked to the needs of survival and self-preservation.

Business Uses:  Red stimulates the appetite and so it is a great color to use in restaurants, with food products and take-away businesses. McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, Chik Fil-a, Wendy’s and Popeye’s all use red in their logo to stimulate hunger. Fire trucks and stop signs are usually painted in red as it draws attention to itself and calls for action to be taken. Flashing red usually warns of danger. Red reduces analytical thinking and creates quicker less thoughtful reaction. Retailers can use red to create a sense of urgency in retail sales and markdown promotions. Red can also be used to highlight VIPs or attract attention to high profile celebrities. The red carpet treatment is often use to highlight a special event or grand opening. Red representing power and courage is also commonly seen on flags.

As red is a hot stimulating color, too much red can cause anger and violence. The term “seeing red” refers to this emotion. Red can raise blood pressure and cause stress. The term, “in the red”, which means to lose money relates red to these feelings of stress and anxiety. Combining red with a complimentary color of turquoise or green balances emotions.

Orange is the mixture of red’s energy and yellow’s happiness. Orange is a creative, friendly, cheerful, youthful, and sociable color.  It vitalizes, inspires and creates enthusiasm. It is also associated with good value.

Business Uses:  Studies show that orange can increase hunger and a sense of heightened social activity which makes it an invaluable color in encouraging sales in restaurants, café’s, bistros and diners where appetite and social behavior are encouraged. It is a good color for travel websites because of its association with journeys, adventure and exciting fun activities. Orange also imparts a message of affordability. The Home Depot and Payless use orange logos, which inspires activity and productivity within the home while also imparting a message of good value and affordability.  Its stimulation to social communication and the senses also make it a good choice for the hotel and resort industry.  Orange is also an excellent choice for the youth market as children and teens tend to like its sense of fun and adventure and its suggestion of affordability. The Nickelodeon logo features the color orange. Many sports teams capitalize on the vibrant and social energy of orange. A light orange or peachy color tends to be more friendly and soothing. Lighter peach tones work well with health care, restaurants and beauty salons.

Too much orange can suggest self-centeredness, pride, lack or care for others or being too cheap.

Combine orange with blue to suggest the idea of play and summer fun, a hot summer sun over cool blue water. Orange and green also elicit feelings of adventure and tropical destinations.

Yellow is the color of sunshine and happiness. It is uplifting and stimulating to the mind. It is optimistic, youthful, playful and inventive. Yellow is a good color choice for communication orientated businesses.

Business Uses:  Yellow is a great color to use for point of purchase displays. Bright yellow attracts the eye and it is an attention getter.  School buses, taxies, and warning signs are commonly painted in yellow.  McDonalds golden arches certainly capture attention. Yellow also increases mental activity, enhances vision and mental clarity. This makes yellow a great choice when clarity of thought and good decision making skills are needed. Certain shades of yellow stimulate creative thought, activate the memory, encourage communication and stimulate the nervous system. This makes it an ideal color to use for children’s learning products.  Yellow is the color of the networker and the journalist or any other profession which works and communicates on a mental level.

Despite strong associations with joy and hope yellow does not appeal to the majority. Overall, yellow along with orange are the least liked colors. It can  represent caution, sickness and jealousy. When overused, yellow can have a disturbing effect. Too much yellow causes loss of focus and creates an insecure environment.

Green represents growth, life, nature, and renewal. Green creates a sense of compassion and nurturing and encourages generosity, kindness and sympathy. Green has healing power and is the most restful and relaxing color to the human eye.

Business Uses:  Green is all around us and represents nature. Green is the key color of the Animal Planet logo. Green rooms are often used as a place where guests can go to relax. Eco friendly green is related to nature,  so it is increasingly used to represent and promote ‘green’ products.  Combining brown or beige with green is often associated with organic or recycled materials.  Green is also associated with health and healing. Green and blue are often used to indicate safety in the advertisment of drugs and medical products. In the western world, darker greens can also relate to money, wealth and prestige.

Too much dark green can lead to feelings of envy, greed and selfishness. The term “green-eyed monster” and “green with envy” stands for these feelings of jealosy. Too much yellow-green stands for sickness, jealousy and cowardice. As it is such a restful color, it can cause people to become lethargic and depressed.

Blue is a cool color that has a broad range of representations. It is also the most liked color and will satisfy the majority. As the color of both sky and sea, it is associated with feelings of tranquility, freedom, space, imagination, intelligence, and heaven.  However, not all blues are serene. Dynamic blues are electric. Blue is also considered a corporate color, conservative and stable, signifying professionalism. Blue also has deeper connotations of depth, trust and loyalty. The phrase “true blue” refers to someone with integrity. Blue also has religious connotations of royalty, piety and peace and is believed to keep the bad spirits away. A “blueblood” refers to someone of noble birth.


Business Uses:  Blue’s representation of integrity and power makes it a natural color choice for police uniforms.  Blue, as it appeals to the majority, is the most popular color in logo design and is seen repeatedly in government, medical and fortune 500 company logos. Financial institutions who wish to communicate a fiscally responsible and secure atmosphere often capitalize on the color blue. Lighter blues have a calming and tranquil effect. Blue is also an appetite suppressant and slows metabolism making it a good choice for medical facilities or spas where relaxation and tranquility are encouraged.

Too much blue may dampen spirits or cause depression, which is where the term “feeling blue” orginates from. The Blues is a music style characterized by melancholic melodies. Too much blue can also come off as cold or uncaring. Navy blue and white create a nautical themed palette. Combining blue and green together is restful and resonates nature.

Turquoise

Turquoise, a blend of green and blue, is a refreshing  and calming color. It represents clarity of thought,emotional balance, communication,  creativity, inspiration, self-expression,  healing and self-sufficiency.

Business Uses:  Turquoise works well with businesses promoting water, whether it be water filtration companies, pool cleaning businesses, or water sports. Turquoise represents cleanliness and purity without being too sterile, making it an ideal choice for cleaning products. It is also a good color choice for the fashion or beauty market, gift or homewares stores as it inspires self-expression and encourages people to assess their own needs.

Too much turquoise can cause one to be overly analytical.

Purple is a very spiritual color combining blue’s stability with red’s high energy. It is a mysterious color invoking deep mystery and the imagination. Light purple is feminine and considered to be the grown up pink. Historically, deep purple has been a color that represents royalty. Historically, purple robes are worn by high ranking spiritual leaders. As such, it can resonate a feeling of power, wealth and luxury. Purple is a rare occurrence in nature making it a color that represents specialness. The purple heart award is a rare honor. The phrase “purple cow” represents something unusual.

Business Uses:  Purple is often used in the beauty industry. It is the ideal color for a spa as it spiritually calming and helps align oneself with the universe. The color purple can also be found in many education related logos. The Hallmark uses purple in their logo to market the company as sophisticated, the purple crown in the logo accentuates purples ties to royalty.

Purple can invoke feelings of gloom, confusion and frustration. The saying “purple haze” refers to confusion or or a drug induced euphoria.

Black is credible and powerful with great flexibility in its meaning. It is associated with mystery, strength, authority, and elegance as well as rebellion, death and evil.  It can be serious and professional but also sexy and sophisticated. “Black tie” event references a formal event and dress code. It can be positively mysterious, but also hidden and sinister.

Business Uses:  Black is often used to market high end luxurious and sophisticated products.  Black packaging makes an item seem heavier and more expensive and therefore of higher perceived value. In teenagers and youth, black represents rebellion. As such, the high end youth market tends to be attracted to black with its sophistication and rebelliousness. Music related products are marketed using black which is seen as cutting edge and trendy. The 007 logo is solid black imparting a sense of danger and sophistication.

Black evokes strong emotions and too much black can be overwhelming. In the west, black is the color of mourning, death and sadness often invokes feelings of emptiness or sadness. Too much black can also isolate.  A “black sheep” represents someone outcast from family or society. A “blacklist” is a list of people to avoid or punish. Black can also allude to something seedy or illegal operating in the dark. “Black market” refers to just that.

White is associated with purity, light, innocence and goodness. It is simple, clean, and pure aiding in mental clarity. Psychologically, white is the color of new beginnings and renewal. In the west, white is traditionally worn by brides. While white isn’t stimulating to the senses, it is a blank canvas which opens the way for the creation of anything the mind can conceive. It brings efficiency to chaos and clears the way forward. White is also protective. A “white knight” is a noble rescuer. Angels usually wear white and a white picket fence protects a happy home.

Business Uses: White is best used as the background color for websites. It allows all other colors to reflect from it and makes all color very readable. White is useful in businesses where cleanliness is imperative, such as dental or medical offices. Complimenting with green or pink assists in healing and to creates a calm and caring atmosphere for patients. It is often marketed in infant and health related products. Low fat foods and dairy products are also marketed with white. White is most often used in logos as negative space or in combination with other colors.

On its own, white is sterile and cold. In extremely bright light, white can cause headaches.

Pink is a youthful, fun and flirty color. Pink represents romantic and softer side of love. Light pink is tender, affectionate and friendly while, hot pinks convey playfulness, energy and excitement. Magenta is a spiritual color of universal harmony and emotional balance aiding in the letting go of old ideas. Non-conformists are attracted to this color.

Business Uses: Pink is often used to market fun, flirty, trendy products for woman and and girls. The color pink is a feature in the Mattel Barbie logo. Studies show that, psychologically, pink calms people down. Pink could be a great color for a mediation company which needs to avoid heated conversations. Magenta is a beneficial color for mentors and life coaches to use to assist their clients to let go of old ideas and to move forward in their lives. Its imaginative and innovative messages are encouraging to all who are looking to the future. In business applications, magenta is most suitable to those in artistic or creative fields, such as artists.

Pink as the softer side of red can create physical weakness. This is the reason sports teams paint the opposing teams locker in pink. Pink is known for draining energy.

Brown is warm color that is practical, earthy and historical. While it can be considered dull, it also represents friendliness and dependability.

Business Uses: Brown stimulates the appetite and is a good color for marketing wholesome, natural organic products. It is combined with green to advertise recycling. Brown is commonly used in businesses related to construction. Trucking businesses use brown to impart a message of durability and reliability. UPS is one of the most recognizable logos that use brown. Brown can be used in place of black to add warmth to a color palette.

Brown can be perceived as being too serious and heavy. It also has connotations of being dirty.

Grey is a cool, neutral color that is timeless and practical. From a moral standpoint, grey is the middle ground between good and evil, black and white. Grey tends to be conservative. It is a neutral color and works in combination with most other colors.  It can be associated with formality and sophistication as well as meanings of being dull, dirty and dingy. Dark grey has they strenght and mystery of black.

Business Uses: The luxury brand Swarovski, make of lead crystal uses a grey swan as their logo.

Grey can be associated with loss and depression and cause unsettling feelings.

Silver is a metallic color believed to be a mirror to the soul. It represents modernity. It is associated with industrial, sleek, high-tech. Historically, it symbolizes wealth, sophistication and elegance. A “silver-tongued” speaker is witty and elegant. Someone born with a “silver spoon” was born wealthy. Psychologically, silver is calming and soothing, with a lightness that is more uplifting than gray. On packaging, silver looks sleek, smooth, and lustrious. It has a coolness about it that relates to the future of science and technology. Its reflective qualities relate to intuition, clairvoyance and mental telepathy.

Business Uses:  Metallics like silver and gold are often used in logos of luxury brands like Chanel, Prada, and Michael Kor to give the feeling of sophistication. Silver is also an ideal color for modern computer businesses that wish to imart a cutting edge feeling of technology and sophistication.

Silver combines well with other colors. Combined with dark blue, it will suggest conservatism and trustworthiness.  Combined with black, it suggests sophistication and elegance. Silver used with turquoise and brown if often used in a Southwestern color palette.

Gold is associated with prestige, luxury and material wealth.  Gold is a warm color that is most similar to yeIlow. It can be bright and cheerful or traditional.  It is the color of victory and praise. The “golden child” stands out as the favorite. Gold stars and gold medals are for winners and the accomplished. Solid gold is the best of the best and the “gold standard” is a measure of excellence.

Business Uses: Gold suggests that a product or service is expensive and exclusive.

When used with purple it can indicate wealth and beauty and is associated with expensive luxury items. Used with dark blue it suggests honesty, trustworthiness and success. Used with black it suggests extreme opulence, elegance and wealth.